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Seminole seeks to educate retention pond fountain owners

SEMINOLE — Fountains across this city could soon be spouting water again once officials spread the word about the clarified rules.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, has barred folks from running fountains because of drought conditions. But after a recent tussle with Seminole, the agency clarified its restrictions and opened the door for some property owners to turn their fountains back on. One city official is going to spend the weekend taking the first step in making sure Seminole residents know what they can do.

"It's just a courtesy, that's all," said Mark Ely, head of Seminole's development department.

Ely will use the county's mapping system to find all retention ponds in the city and then send out letters to the owners of those ponds — mostly multifamily properties, such as apartments and condominiums — to tell them it's okay to run fountains if they have them. He'll wait a week and then visit sites to make sure property owners understand the rules and know if they can turn their fountains back on.

Ely estimated there may be 10 or fewer properties that qualify, but it's still worth the effort.

"We're Seminole; we tuck everybody into bed," Ely said. "That's our motto. ... We try to tuck everybody into bed."

Seminole's fountains became an issue recently after a local resident called the city to complain that it was running its fountains in violation of Swiftmud rules. City Manager Frank Edmunds ordered the fountains turned off, but a Times photographer captured a picture of one still running.

Swiftmud officials at first told the Times that the city was in violation, but later called back to explain that Seminole was in compliance because the fountains did not use drinking water. Seminole demanded that Swiftmud issue written permission and provide an explanation.

That came in a May 22 e-mail, which Ely is now going to attach to the news story about Seminole's fountain and send out to the owners of retention pond fountains "to put to bed any confusion as to when a person can run a fountain."

Ely said news reports of the city's tangle with Swiftmud produced a spate of phone calls from irate residents who had wrangled with the agency over one thing or another.

The callers, Ely said, were telling him, "Good for you. ... Good for you, basically, sticking it to the man."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or alindberg@sptimes.com.

fast facts

The rules

Swiftmud sent an e-mail to Seminole explaining its restrictions on running fountains during the drought. Here is the body of that e-mail.

"The restrictions that apply to fountains can vary, based on what the fountain is used for and the source of water involved.

"If the fountain is supplied by only reclaimed water or only saltwater ... the district's water shortage restrictions do not apply.

"If a water feature is a child-oriented splash area in a city park or similar recreation device (maintained to health department standards for a pool or spa), it is not an aesthetic-only fountain and so can be operated in compliance with the more general recreational water use restrictions (which include keeping it in good repair to minimize water loss from leaks).

"If an aesthetic-only fountain is supplied by a pond or other non-potable supply, it can currently be run four hours a day in accordance with 'Modified Phase III' restrictions. The hours of operation must be posted.

"If such a pond needs more than four hours of fountain operation for required water quality purposes (for example, if the aeration provided by the fountain is part of an environmental resource permit requirement or is deemed necessary in writing by a professional 'lake doctor'), the district is willing to work with the fountain operator through a variance process to provide the number of hours needed.

"The district's current ban on aesthetic-only fountains only applies if the fountain (water) is supplied by Pinellas County Utilities or another potable water source that is served by Tampa Bay Water (the region's wholesale water supplier); such potable water sources are subject to 'Modified Phase IV' restrictions.

"Some local governments, such as the city of Clearwater, have chosen to impose local restrictions which apply 'Modified Phase IV' restrictions to other water sources even though the district has not ordered that action."

For information, call Swiftmud at (813) 985-7481 or 1-800-836-0797, or Mark Ely at the city of Seminole, (727) 391-0204.

Source: Southwest Water Management District

Seminole seeks to educate retention pond fountain owners 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 4:30am]
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